Wednesday, 1 April 2020
The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells (1896)
In January of 1888, a brig sailing between Samoa and California, discovered a man floating alone in a small open boat and rescued him. The man was Edward Prendick. Eleven months earlier he had been on a ship which collided with a derelict vessel and he was thought to have drowned. The tale he told his rescuers was so strange that they believed the solitude and danger he went through had made him mad.
His tale was thus:
After the collision he managed to climb onto a dinghy and some days later a schooner carrying a menagerie of savage beasts chanced to pick him up.
Montgomery, a man with a scientific background, was on board and he had been collecting animals to take back to an uncharted island in the Pacific where he worked with Dr Moreau, a scientist engaged in vivisection and bizarre experiments.
After an incident with the drunken captain, Prendick was evicted from the ship and stranded on the island when Montgomery disembarked. Moreau and Montgomery reluctantly allowed Prendick onto the island as his only other option was to drift in the ocean in an unseaworthy boat until he succumbed to the elements.
Bit by bit the secrets of this island began to reveal themselves. Moreau was breaking the laws of nature by experimenting with vivisection, blending one animal with another, and had created the strange ‘Beast People.’
‘Scarcely six weeks passed before I had lost every feeling but dislike and abhorrence for these infamous experiments of Moreau’s. My one idea was to get away from these horrible caricatures of my Maker’s image, back to the sweet and wholesome intercourse of men.’
Augustin Filon, a contemporary reviewer of the book, said that Moreau’s ‘...absurd and sublime dream is that of condensing the innumerable slow stages of evolution into a few weeks or months.’
However, one of Moreau’s victims escapes from his laboratory and attacks the scientist. The taste of blood causes the creature to relapse and incites the rest of the ‘Beast Creatures’ to similar behaviour. As they start to revert to their former animal states the island becomes a very dangerous place to be.
The Island of Doctor Moreau is a work of science fiction but it raises ethical questions that are relevant for today. In the pursuit of scientific knowledge and advancement, what ethical dilemmas should be considered beforehand? Even though we have the capabilities to push biological boundaries, how far should we allow ourselves to go?
This is an interesting book and H.G. Wells was a superb writer. I think it would be a good book for biology students to read & discuss but some sensitive souls may want to give it a miss.
Linking to Back to the Classics: An Abandoned Classic. I started reading this a few years ago but I wasn't in the mood for it then. As much as I enjoy this author's literary gift, his subjects are often a tad depressing!